5 tips for DSLR filmmakers

Filmmaking is a huge process to go through and color correction is just one step of the entire filmmaking process, but oh what a difference it can make. Through experimentation and watching other filmmakers using various techniques to grade their images, I’ve got some tips and tricks that work for me. I’m a Premiere Pro user and I like to jump in between After Effects and Photoshop, I love Adobe provides that seamless integration. However, these tips are applicable to all Color Correction software.


When it comes to working with your footage to manipulate color, there are two main types of color manipulation: color correction and color grading. They might be similar in their process, however there is a difference in how and when they are used.

Color correction deals with technical aspects and adjustments made to exposure, white balance, ISO, and contrast (expanding contrast from log/flat recorded images). In other words, every clip is manually tweaked to get a good exposure and white balance. The use of videoscopes is critical at this stage. I don’t really trust my eyes and if I am not using my videoscopes I feel like I am flying blind. But I do trust to the scopes as they guide me through my decision making process.

After correcting the initial image problems, I can move to change the aesthetics of the footage and if I want -- change the entire visual look and style.

Color grading is the creative process where you take decision to further enhance your footage and create more detailed color profiles, match the shots, remove distractions, use shape masks and apply different looks. I’d say the sky is the limit here.

Tip #1: Break down your grading process into four actionable parts

four actionable parts of color grading process

It’s really important to go through the footage in a proper order, as it will help you to extract the maximum information and maintain high quality. The essential color grading process can be broken down into four actionable parts:

  1. Primary adjustments - balance your shots, adjust exposure and white balance, remove noise and other artifacts.

  2. Shot matching and scene balancing - match shots together, starting with brightness, then moving onto color, using scopes as a guide.

  3. Creating depth and working on details - skin tone consistency, skies, foliage, add gradients, vignettes, and other details.

  4. Creating style - grade your footage, simulate a film stock. Always pay attention to your videoscopes to keep your video signal within “legal” levels.

Tip #2: Trust the Video Scopes (Waveform, RGB parade and Vectorscope)


I can’t stress enough how essential and effective it is to use these tools. There are so many things that can have a direct influence on how our eyes SEE the color. Our eyes are pretty good at recognizing the color and it’s brightness, but they are very sensitive and our brain tend to adapt very quickly to what our eyes see and “read” color differently. Oftentimes, I look at a combination of scopes to get a more cohesive technical view about what’s going on with my image. Scopes help me to form my color correction decisions.

In premiere Pro, come up to "Window" and then select "Lumetri Scopes":


You can access  different scope types using the wrench icon for Settings:


Tip #3: Adjust your Black and White levels first


In my workflow, I prefer to work from the bottom up having my Blacks touching 0 IRE on the Waveform, giving the entire image solidity and density. I drag the Blacks control until the bottom of the graph in the Waveform monitors comes around 0 IRE. Watch the image in your Program window as you make this type of adjustments to make sure the dark portions of the picture aren’t becoming too dark, as we don’t want to eliminate detail in that part of the image. I then push the Whites up to expand the image and get contrast. Next, I tweak the Midtones to my personal taste.

Another thing to remember, the Midtones are where the skin tones live. If I want to make a little pop in the skin tone, I’d raise the Midtones after I adjusted the exposure of my image properly. It feels easier to drag the exposure slider to fix the exposure, however it won’t have the same impact as working with Blacks, Whites and Midtones individually.

Always keep in mind that one adjustment affects another, so you kind of have to do back and forth changes with small amounts so you get where you like it.

Tip #4: Use the Vectorscope for Balancing Skin Tones


Adjusting white balance and skin tones is probably half the job in a grading process. One of the nice things about the skin tones is that regardless the ethnic background the complexion of everyone on this planet falls within a fairly narrow range, which can be seen on a vectorscope, yes! Monitor the -i line (flesh line) on the Vectorscope to evaluate the skin tones. I like to work with the Three-Way Color Corrector effect to adjust skin tones. I move the wheel of the Midtones in the direction of the color I need more on the face. I watch the Vectorscope and drag the wheel until it lines up with the “-i” line (flesh line). I will also adjust Midtone Saturation to make sure the skin tones look natural.

Tip #5: Color correct your footage before applying LUTs


There are different types of LUTs -- calibration LUTs, LUTs for normalizing log media (also can be called input LUTs), print emulation LUTs, style LUTs, legalizing LUTs. A Look Up Table, or LUT, is essentially a digital file that's going to make up the difference between the source file and a destination result (LUTs in no way replace proper calibration or color correction, they only assist in the process). It is important to note a Look Up Table is not necessarily a quick fix. The log-corrective LUTs are built on correcting an already perfectly exposed and perfectly color-balanced image. You’ll often need to introduce basic color correction and other adjustments in between, especially if the footage wasn’t shot properly (i.e. exposure, white balance, other issues), see from your scopes and image if you have corrected things properly.